Hello everyone! My name is Jessica Xu, and I’ve just completed my second year in Biochemistry and Statistics at the University of Toronto. This past school year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to do a ROP299 project with Dr. Pascal Tyrrell and I’d like to share my experience with you all!
A bit about myself first: in high school, I was always interested in life sciences. My favourite courses were biology and chemistry, and I was certain that I would go to medical school and become a doctor. But when I took my first stats course in first year, I really enjoyed it and I started to become interested in the role of statistics in life sciences. Thus, at the end of my first year, while I was looking through the various ROP courses, I felt that Dr. Tyrrell’s lab was the perfect opportunity to explore my budding interest in this area. I was very fortunate to have an interview with Dr. Tyrrell, and even more fortunate to be offered a position in his lab!
Though it may be obvious, doing a research project when you have no research experience is very challenging! Coming into this lab having taken a statistics course and a few computer science courses in first year, I felt I had a pretty good amount of background knowledge. But as I joined my first lab meeting, I realized I couldn’t be more wrong! Almost every other word being said was a word I’d never heard of before! And so, I realized that there was a lot I needed to learn before I could even begin my project.
I then began on the journey of my project, which was looking at how two dimension reduction techniques, LASSO and SES, performed in an ill-posed problem. It was definitely no easy task! While I had learned a little bit about dimension reduction in my statistics class, I still had a lot to learn about the specific techniques, their applications in medical imaging, and ill-posed problems. I was also very inexperienced in coding, and had to learn a lot of R on my own, and become familiar with the different packages that I would have to use. It was a very tumultuous journey, and I spent a lot of time just trying to get my code to work. Luckily, with help from Amar, I was able to figure out some of the errors and issues I was facing in regards to the code.
I learned a lot about statistics and dimension reduction in this ROP, more than I have learned in any other courses! But most importantly, I had learned a lot about the scientific process and the experience of writing a research paper. If I can provide any advice based on my experience, it’s that sometimes it’s okay to feel lost! It’s not expected of you to have devised a perfect plan of execution for your research, especially when it’s your first time! There will be times that you’ll stray off course (as I often did), but the most valuable lesson that I learned in this ROP is how to get back on track. Sometimes you just need to take a step back, go back to the beginning and think about the purpose of your project and what it is you’re trying to tell people. But it’s not always as easy to realize this. Luckily Dr. Tyrrell has always been there to guide us throughout our projects and to make sure we stay on track by reminding us of the goal of our research. I’m incredibly grateful for all the support, guidance, and time that Dr. Tyrrell has given this past year. It has been an absolute pleasure of having the experience of working in this lab.
Now that I’ve taken my first step into the world of research, with all the new skills and lessons I’ve learned in my ROP, I look forward to all the opportunities and the journey ahead!